Sunday, January 29, 2023

David Promoted to Leadership in Saul's Army

David is coming off the greatest moment of his life, his victory over Goliath. He could easily be tempted to become arrogant or proud. But that is not what happens next.

We saw at the end of chapter 17 that after David defeated Goliath he was brought before Saul and Saul doesn’t even remember who he is. He had met him before, but he doesn’t even know his name. So he asks David who he is.

Then it says in 1st Samuel chapter 18, “When he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, so that Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 2 And Saul took him that day and would not permit him to return home to his father’s house. 3 Then Jonathan and David made a covenant because he loved him as his own soul. 4 So Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, even his garments, his sword, his bow, and his belt.”

At this moment David makes a true friend. Jonathan the son of Saul is that true friend to David. He admires David. He loves David. He has decided David will be his friend. He knows David is a great warrior, so he even gives him his armor and weapons to wear.

Our first point about David’s character today is this, as you live out the heart of God, you will find people who come around you and want to join with you in that mission. They sense the Spirit of God within you, they sense you are yielded to God’s leading in your life, and they want to be part of that.

They will be a blessing to you. They will encourage you. They will fight beside you. They will correct you when you get off base. They will point you toward God in your struggles. They are a blessing because they love you as themselves. Which is a great and rare and beautiful thing.

David remains with the army of Israel now, and he begans fighting battles and winning great victories, many months go by, most likely, and then the Israelites return from the wars they’ve fought.

It says this then, “6 When they came home, as David was returning from slaying the Philistine, the women came out from all cities of Israel to meet King Saul, singing and dancing, with tambourines, with joy, and with musical instruments. 7 The dancing women sang and said, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”

8 Saul became very angry, and this saying was displeasing to him. Therefore he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, but to me they have ascribed thousands. Now what remains for him to have but the kingdom?” 9 So Saul was suspicious of David from that day and forward.”

Point number two today, as you submit to God’s leading, and follow your Father wherever he leads you, and fight in His strength, and believe in Him and let Him work through you, you will shine more and more brightly. This like we said in point one draws people toward you who want to fight beside you, but it also draws people to be jealous of you, and to hate you.

Point number two is people will despise you, be jealous of you, and try to begin to work against you and your ministry. But they aren’t really fighting you, as much as the Spirit of God within you, and in that case, you’ll have the victory in the end.

But it’s very common, as a leader begins to shine, that others become jealous. It was temptation for me leaving seminary, and my friends were getting plum assignments and I struggled, am I going to get jealous? Am I going to let that in? And I decided that I would not.

Many may become suspicious of you over time, they will watch everything you do, perplexed at what is going on, they watch from the background even hoping that you’ll make a mistake so they can accuse you. But your best rebuke to that is simply going even closer to God and continuing to shine in Him. They may even accuse you of being arrogant, because you’re speaking out, you’re shining for God, but don’t believe it. Unless it is true, then repent of pride immediately.

It says that Saul became so jealous of David, that when David was playing the harp for Saul, Saul grabbed a spear and threw it at David, then a second time attempted to pin David to the wall, but David evaded the spears both times.

It even says in verse 12, “12 Saul was afraid of David because the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul.”

You may actually be feared by people as you follow God’s leading. Jealousy and fear and hate.

So since Saul feared David, he sent David away and into battle again, he made him a commander over 1000 men, and sent him out, hoping that he might be killed in battle. But David wasn’t harmed.

Point number 3, you’ll have God’s divine protection as you serve Him faithfully. As you live out what it means to be a man after God’s own heart, you’re safe in His hands. He won’t let your enemies harm you as you do His will.

So King Saul hatches a new plan, he offers David to marry his daughter, but listen to David’s response.

He says, “18 But David said to Saul, “Who am I? And what is my life, or my father’s family in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?” 19 So when it was time that Merab, daughter of Saul, should have been given to David, she was given to Adriel the Meholathite for a wife.”

Point number 4, David was very humble. There was no pride in David. He was incredibly humble, despite his victory against Goliath, being promoted to a leader in the army, he could’ve gotten puffed up and proud but he didn’t.

Remember that in your own life. When you have a good thing happen, remind yourself, stay humble, don’t get proud. Pride will destroy everything you’ve won so very quickly. Pride is cancer, destructive, vicious, and corrupting.

So Saul’s first daughter is given to another, but Saul’s second daughter Michal really likes David. And Saul hears that Michal longs for David, so he hatches another plan, he says to David, alright you’re too humble to become part of the royal family, but I’ll offer you this, if you kill one hundred philistines and bring their foreskins back to me, I’ll give you my daughter. King Saul is hoping again that David will die in battle.

But David is pleased with this offer, and so he goes immediately to battle.

And it says this, “David arose and went, he and his men, and killed two hundred men of the Philistines. Then David brought their foreskins and they gave them in full to the king, that he might be the king’s son-in-law. And Saul gave him Michal his daughter for a wife.

28 When Saul saw and knew that the Lord was with David, and that Michal, his daughter, loved him, 29 Saul was yet the more afraid of David, and Saul became the enemy of David continually.

30 Then the commanders of the Philistines went out to make war. And when they went out David was more successful than all the servants of Saul, so that his name was highly honored.”

And that’s how chapter 18 ends. David meets a wonderful woman, she loves him, they get married, David is safe in his battles, he kills twice as many philistines as originally requested, and for King Saul, he can tell God is with David. It’s clear as day, God is with Him.

As a result King Saul becomes David’s constant enemy. He knows deep within his heart that David is meant for the throne, for his throne. And he hates that.

Once again more battles come and David leading his thousand men is more successful than any other commanders. He’s increasingly loved by the people of Israel, respected by the leaders of the army, and his name is increasingly highly honored amongst all peoples.

Last point today, God will honor your name if you serve Him humbly. As you serve Him, fight the battles he has for you, as you carry the gospel, plan to serve people and do it faithfully, as you live your life for Him, he will honor your name. You will be honored, people will respect you, some will hate you, but many will love you and respect you.

In conclusion, I think we really see the fruits of David’s heart for God in this chapter of 1st Samuel. The fruits of humility, of devotion to God, of skill in battle, of submission to God’s plan, of obeying the will of God is victories. Honor. New friendships. A marriage. Honor among the people. But also enemies like King Saul.

1. People will join you as you serve God

2. People will also begin to be jealous of you and hate you

3. You’ll have God’s protection as you serve Him

4. David’s response to victories in his life was intense intentional humility

5. God will honor your name as you serve Him

Letter to the Church at Pergamum: The Church near Satan's Throne

I was at the gym last night, on the stair-stepper enjoying a good work out. All the workout machines in the area point one direction, and so looking forward in front of me there are always many televisions all lined up one by one. I counted them last night and I counted 20 TVs. All of them on different channels, one playing music videos, one liberal news, one conservative news, one basketball, one home remodeling, and on and on it went.

The allurements are many in America, one was playing music videos with half naked women, shirtless men, throwing around money, guzzling booze, every channel was showing advertisements for food, pizzas, tacos, cinnamon rolls, and I’m there on my stair stepper trying to get in shape, trying to think holy thoughts, and it’s tough.

And it reminded me how its difficult to be a Christian in our society. Of all the channels on all the TVs, not one of those channels was playing Christian content.

And I realized this is how our lives are in Michigan, in the USA, we are constantly bombarded by all these messages, blaring on the TVs, billboards, radio, films, friends, workplaces, and we have to somehow in all this mess, stay true to Jesus Christ, holy, spotless and blameless, ready for eternal life. That is the challenge we face in our day and age.

And it’s very similar to the situation that the church at Pergamum faced in the first century. Jesus spoke these words to them...

From Revelation 2:12-17: “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: “This is the message from the one who has the sharp two-edged sword. 13 I know where you live, there where Satan has his throne. You are true to me, and you did not abandon your faith in me even during the time when Antipas, my faithful witness, was killed there where Satan lives. 14 But there are a few things I have against you: there are some among you who follow the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak how to lead the people of Israel into sin by persuading them to eat food that had been offered to idols and to practice sexual immorality. 15 In the same way you have people among you who follow the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Now turn from your sins! If you don't, I will come to you soon and fight against those people with the sword that comes out of my mouth.

17 “If you have ears, then, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches! To those who win the victory I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give each of them a white stone on which is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it."

The city of Pergamum in the ancient world was a city seated on a hill, a tall hill, and this place was like the capital of Asia minor. It was a big city. It was a powerful city. It had a steep colosseum, where they would have circuses and gladiator fights, this colosseum could seat 10,000 people.

The ruins of Pergamum, you can see them on the screen, are some of the best and most detailed ruins we have of the ancient world.

The library of Pergamum held an astonishing 200,000 books.

As far as the worship of Greek gods went in the Roman empire, Pergamum had temples to all the Greek gods, Athena, Dionysus, Demeter, Asklepios and Zeus, the king of the Greek gods.

Or if you wanted to declare your worship to emperor of the roman empire, you would go to the temple at the heights of Pergamum, where you could worship Trajan.

We don’t have an official record as to who planted the church in Pergamum. But it is recorded in the book of Acts that the apostle Paul passed through Pergamum on his second missionary journey.

The small church at Pergamum found itself in the capital of Asia minor, in the capital for worship to pagan gods in the region. Christians in this area were often regarded as atheists, because they refused to worship the gods of the romans. So they were charged with being atheists, with having no gods.

So they would be brought before the roman governor of the area, and in Pergamum at the roman governors mansion there was a statue of a roman soldier with a drawn sword. Imagine walking past that to your court date. The roman governor had the power of the sword, to decide your case with having your head cut off. Plain and simple, that was the danger, and the early church in this area was being severely persecuted.

Understanding all these details, we can see why Jesus says what he says to the church at Pergamum.

He says, “This is the message from the one who has the sharp two-edged sword. I know where you live, there where Satan has his throne. You are true to me, and you did not abandon your faith in me even during the time when Antipas, my faithful witness, was killed there where Satan lives.”

Jesus says, remember who has the double-edged sword. It’s not Romans. They have one who can hurt your body. But Jesus says I have the greater sword, the sword of eternal life, or eternal death.

A sword to rest on our shoulders to knight us for his kingdom, or a sword with which to strike us, and send us to eternal darkness. It’s a perfect thing to say to the church at Pergamum. They face the sword of the roman governor. But Jesus says, I’m really the one who holds the sword, not them.

It’s just the kind of voice I’ve come to expect from God. It’s not quite what we expect. Sometimes from Jesus we expect Mr. Rodgers, saying, oh gosh friend let me give you a big hug and it’ll all be OK. Don’t worry about it.

The voice of the living God is not that, it’s deep, it’s full of love, it also rebukes us and corrects us and speaks to difficult eternal realities. It’s just the kind of word I’ve known from God in my life.

That’s our first point for today, recognize the unique voice of God. Full of grace and truth.

It reminds me of Chelsey, when her grandfather died in the house fire. Chelsey called out to God about this. What might we expect Jesus would’ve said to her? It’s going to be OK. I love you so much and he’s in a better place. That’s what we might expect the Lord to say. But, what she heard from God was different. God said to her, better he be burned a little now, than to burn forever in hell. That’s intense. That’s cutting. That’s hard. But it’s the truth, and it’s a reminder of eternal truth. It reminds me of this word for Pergamum.

Verse 13, Jesus says this is where Satan keeps his throne. Some read that as metaphorical, well it’s referencing the worship of Zeus and all this. I tend to take it literally, that Satan’s throne in the ancient world really was in Pergamum. It’s the capital of the region. It’s right near the cities of the early church. Perfect place to reign over the Earth, and there Satan kept humanity in the chains of bondage to false religions, false gods, evil things. I wonder if Satan’s throne is still in Pergamum? Hard to say, though we know when the anti-Christ rises he will reign from Jerusalem. But maybe even to this day, perhaps Satan runs his court from Pergamum.

Jesus also speaks to them about the death of a martyr named Antipas, who gave up his life for the faith. He may have been brought before the roman authorities, who accused him of atheism, and when he refused to worship the false gods or the emperor, they may have cut his head off.

I’m sure many of the early church were at the trial, and most likely saw it happened, and wondered if the same would happen to them. But Jesus reminds them, I’m the one who holds the true sword. So keep me first, and do not fear those who can kill the body, but he who can kill both body and soul in hell.

That’s our second point today, keep God first. Keep Him first in all things. Even to the point of death.

But, if it wasn’t death, there was another danger, slow, gradual compromise to surrounding culture. Which brings us to our third point, avoid doublemindedness.

This is talked about in verse 14, which says, “But there are a few things I have against you: there are some among you who follow the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak how to lead the people of Israel into sin by persuading them to eat food that had been offered to idols and to practice sexual immorality.”

We’re given by the Lord a reference to Balaam and Balak, which is recorded in the book of Numbers starting in chapter 22. And while studying this record, I thought to myself, this is a key that unlocks the problem that was taking place in the church in Pergamum.

Balaam, prophet of God, who speaks Gods words to people, is summoned by a gentile King, Balak. But Balaam’s motives are impure, he’s doubleminded, he has his own desires in mind, yet he also wants to serve God.

As Balaam travels to the king’s palace, the angel of God stands in the path of his donkey, with a drawn sword, interesting, but Balaam can’t see the angel. The donkey can though. So the angel blocks his path, and the donkey goes off the road three times to avoid the angel. Odd sort of encounter. But somehow this helps Balaam to learn his lesson, that he can’t be double-minded in his life with God. He can’t serve both God and himself.

And the at the climax of these events, even after this encounter, Balaam is still double-minded as he shares the word of God with King Balak. But at last, in a moment of clarity, Balaam is on a mountain overlooking the land of Israel, and he’s overcome with amazement at what God has done, and finally his eyes are opened, he sees the truth, and he speaks only the truth to Balak.

But his failures and double-mindedness have serious consequences for Israel.

I think this helps us to understand something simple though. If we try to live the Christian life and at the same time serve ourselves and our own interests, that is doublemindedness, and we become blind. We can’t really see the truth. That there is angel with a drawn sword before us. And we’re in danger. Thankfully, God does things to wake us up to this reality. And eventually hopefully we see the reality, that God is judge, he has the drawn sword and we must give all over to Him.

Jesus also talks about Christians in this church who were committing sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols. And this is a reference to pagan worship. I’m sure some of the Christians thought to themselves, I don’t want to die, to if I just go the temple, sleep with the temple prostitutes, and eat the meat being sacrificed there, which was a religious practice, then the romans will leave me alone. So there were believers there, worshipping God on Sunday, but during the week, they would be going to the pagan temple, sleeping with the temple prostitutes and eating the meat sacrificed to idols. They were doubleminded. They had one foot in the faith, and one foot in paganism.

Then in verse 15 Jesus says, “In the same way you have people among you who follow the teaching of the Nicolaitans.”

It seems like the Nicolaitans, if they can be linked to Nicolas of Antioch, were teaching Christians that they could mix the practices of other pagan religions with Christianity, and with Judaism, and they could all just be mixed together. So really another form of doublemindedness.

Next Jesus commands them to repent. In verse 16: “Now turn from your sins! If you don't, I will come to you soon and fight against those people with the sword that comes out of my mouth.”

Once again we see the reference to the sword. Of course the sword that God holds is the sword of His spoken word. When God speaks, everything changes. When God speaks, the universe is born. When God speaks, life comes into being. God breathed you out as well, with his word, His voice. You were spoken and commanded into existence by God himself.

This brings us to our fourth point, Repent quickly. If you find that you’ve become doubleminded, if you find that you’re living in sin, then call out to God. Ask Him to open your eyes and soften your heart, so you can see the sin, and mourn over it. When we mourn over sin, this leads us to repentance.

Then the message concludes like this, verse 17: “If you have ears, then, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches!

“To those who win the victory I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give each of them a white stone on which is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

I like how Jesus always says, if you have ears, then listen. Because not everyone has ears willing to listen. But if you do, he says listen carefully to what I’m saying. Pay close attention.

To those who overcome, who win the victory, Jesus says I will give the hidden manna. What is the hidden manna? Many scholars have wondered at what the hidden manna actually is. I didn’t find any particularly useful descriptions. Most scholars say it’s simply referring to Jesus, Jesus saying I will give you myself. That’s nice. I don’t think it’s right. One commentator said perhaps it’s a reference to God providing food for the church of Pergamum. But that doesn’t quite make sense either, because this is referencing a gift received after death.

One possibility suggested by Arthur Pink is that it may be referencing manna that was stored as a memorial to future generations of God’s faithfulness. And so it could reference some memorial, a record in heaven of all the good things Christians did in the world, as an everlasting memorial to God. A celebration. Manna literally means, “What is it!?” With surprise, because God provided manna from heaven for the Israelites while they wandered in the wilderness.

And it says in Malachi, 3:16, that God sees the deeds of those who discuss him and serve him, “Then the people who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard what they said. In his presence, there was written down in a book a record of those who feared the Lord and respected him.”

Many have also wondered what Jesus meant when he said, “I will also give each of them a white stone on which is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

But in ancient times, when someone was invited to an important gathering, like something held by the roman government, or the emperor himself, they would receive a carved sheet of marble with their name written on it. And they would bring it to the festival or event and present it to the guard at the entrance, to enter into the party.

It would be like receiving an invite in the mail to come to the white house and attend a function there. Very prestigious. Thinking of the Christians in Pergamum, who were excluded from everything, and rejected by the culture, and viewed as evil and even killed for their beliefs, Jesus says I have invite for you, if you overcome, to enter into the new Jerusalem, the city of God.

And what does Jesus mean by a hidden name, that only you know? Well. When I think of my journey as a Christian, the truth is that the old me died in 2012 when I became a Christian. And honestly, as we each live the Christian life we’re changed, time and again, glory to glory, new phase to new phase, where by the end we’ve had numerous different names, we’ve been molded and crafted, taken from level to level, and as we do our personality changes, then changes again, then changes again. We’re overcomers. Often, we’re overcoming ourselves and who we used to be yesterday. We overcome the old and increasingly become the new. But hidden for us in paradise, in the New Jerusalem, is still a new level of who we are. We become at last, who we were always meant to be in the first place, the one we always dreamed of being, the person we saw that we could be, in our hopes and in our dreams, a person made to worship God, to love God and be loved by Him forever. A new name, that only we know.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

The Spiritual Journey of Aaron Rodgers

Two thousand nine, week eight, Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings, and there was a fire burning in the hearts of millions of Packer fans as Brett Favre, girded in purple and white strode onto Lambeau field. The unthinkable had happened. 

I loved Brett Favre. I had watched him since I was eight years old, turning a team from total failure to incredible victory. He was our hero. No one played the position like Favre did. Yet he had turned against us. 

Now we had a new hero. His name? Aaron Rodgers. I wanted that game so badly. I wanted to win. But Favre and the Vikings overcame us. Yet from that day on we had a new hero. Aaron Rodgers. We believed in him. And he would not disappoint. 

Over the years Rodgers has fought in Green Bay for another title after the incredible 2010 season, but in recent years under Matt Lafleur the Packers have come up short, with the 2022 season ending in an 8-9 record, missing the playoffs by a single game. 

As Aaron Rodgers considers what to do next in his career, I've asked myself this question: Who is Aaron Rodgers really? 

I think to understand someone at their roots, at their base level, we have to understand where they are spiritually, philosophically. Aaron Rodgers was raised in California. A huge 49ers fan. But did you know Aaron Rodgers was also a young man raised with faith? It's true. And as he entered the NFL that Christian faith remained an important part of his life. 

In fact Aaron Rodgers himself shared with a friend of mine, Major Bob Mueller, of The Salvation Army, how his mom had taken him growing up to volunteer at The Salvation Army.

Major Bob Mueller was the officer at The Salvation Army in the Green Bay area, and Aaron had reached out and set up an event that is now held annually, where Packer players sign autographs and the fans pay for them, with the proceeds going to support those in need. 

Major Bob asked Aaron when they met, "Why are you doing this Aaron?" And Aaron said growing up his mom had taken him to volunteer at The Salvation Army in his hometown. So he wanted to give back.

For many years in his life Aaron Rodgers considered himself a Christian, a follower of Jesus, one who trusted the Bible, the word of God, and saw hope in an eternal life beyond the grave.

However, over time, his faith dwindled and increasingly questions and skepticism replaced it. This isn't particular uncommon. We all face those challenges in our spiritual journey. 

Like the traveler in the Pilgrim's Progress, we all eventually make our way through "vanity fair" where the various offerings of the world system are dangled before the weary travelers. 

Think of Brett Favre, not a man of faith for many years, a college star from down south, but, something changed for Brett after his retirement. God wove the strands of his story together, from his humble start in Atlanta, to Green Bay, to victories, concussions, opioid addiction, the death of his father, the bitter battles with retirement and the Packer organization, but finally, he hit a bottom of sorts, and he gave his life to Jesus Christ.

At his induction into the Hall of Fame he wore a gold jacket, yet spiritually he also wore the righteousness of the Messiah when he said, "Thank you Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior.

Many of us Christians were amazed and excited by this declaration by Brett Favre. Given his friendship with Aaron Rodgers, perhaps Brett could help disciple Aaron in the future.

In any case after Brett's declaration at the Hall of Fame, many of us wondered where Rodgers was at with his faith. 

Aaron Rodgers came out discussing his views about Christianity in 2020 on Danica Patrick's podcast, saying that he couldn't believe in a God who would send people to hell, among other statements critical of the Christian faith. 

Aaron later shared that he had given up his Christian faith, crediting his relationship with Rob Bell, the progressive minister. Bell apparently sent Rodgers numerous books to try to guide Rodgers away from a literal interpretation of the Bible, and to suggest that there is no hell, among other more progressive perspectives on Christianity. 

Growing up in Wausau, Wisconsin, about two hours from Green Bay, I had been raised in the Catholic faith, but in my teens I had begun to reject the faith, and by my early twenties, I was an atheist/agnostic. I did not believe the religion of my ancestors was of any value. I had bought into the mainstream narrative that science, modern medicine, and technology had essentially made religion irrelevant. 

So I began to live out the worldview of relativism, post-modernism, if there is no God, if there is no origin for humanity aside from the primordial soup, then I could live however I wanted. I was free to use drugs, chase the ladies, party it up, and essentially do whatever I wanted.

But after seven years of this lifestyle I found myself increasingly desperate for answers to the big questions. As you experience the emptiness of life without meaning, and as you begin to acquire addictions and negative attitudes, life becomes increasingly unbearable. As suffering and troubles increase, trauma increases, and then fear increases, and these fuels add to the fire of the big questions: Who am I? Why am I here?

Before it had been a fun question, now it was a desperate need to know. Soon, I think in that stage, we find ourselves wrestling with two extremes, life or death. I don't want to live anymore because life is unbearable. I can't stand it anymore. But, do I really want the unvarnished truth? Because it isn't pretty.

At rock bottom, total destruction of ego, I was left with two options, death, or life. Rock bottom has a way of refining the mind-battle to it's purest form: life or death. 

So it came into my mind to cry out to that ancient name, beyond ancient doors, the name that our modern society has covered in signs and placards that read: "bigotry, racism, sexism, white mans religion, child sex crimes, intolerance, hateful, judgmental" on and on and on the lists goes. The name censored in public school, criticized in college, smeared in the media, mocked by societal elites, redefined by academics, and rejected by society at large. And yet, there it was, that name, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, still there beyond all the slander, all the philosophical double-speak, all the charges of hate and intolerance; still, firm, steady, unmoving.  

I called out to that name. I didn't need all the answers. But I did need the chief answer giver. I needed to give it another chance. I needed to see if when I picked up that phone of faith in Christ, I'd find someone on the other end of the line, unlike any other world religion I had tried, and sure enough, I was shocked to find out, truly shocked to find out, that the God of my forefathers was actually real. There was a voice on the other end of the phone. Still, quiet, yet clear, and steady.

There was still a lot I didn't like in the gospels, in the Bible. A lot I didn't understand, a lot of harsh truth, a lot of stuff that called me out directly, a lot of sharp truths about morality, justice, and accountability, and yes, even about heaven and hell, and God's justice and judgment. 

But I realized something pretty basic. It's baked into all modern philosophy: that I must adhere to my own understanding. I must trust myself above anyone else. But what if that assumption is wrong? What if it's just as likely that I can be wrong about something like heaven and hell? What if I don't see the big picture? What if I do need to trust that God sees the accountability and justice of heaven and hell from an angle that I can't perceive in my finite nature?  Could I do that unthinkable thing and trust God in something that I found deeply disturbing? I dared to reject the modern notion that reality breaks down fundamentally to my own personal preferences, and decided that I would allow a voice above me to speak into my life, the voice of God, as revealed in His word. Even a voice to tell me I was wrong. 

That's not an easy salad to devour. But the pay out afterward was extremely high: Receiving the Kingdom of God as my inheritance in the next life. To reign with Him. To receive a new eternal purpose. High stakes require high payouts in either direction, a paradise beyond imagining or a prison beyond our worst nightmares. Nothing else would be high enough stakes for this gritty, majestic drama that unfolds on planet Earth. 

I still wrestle with it from time to time. But that's OK. Jacob wrestled with God. Israel means he who wrestles with God. Maybe we need to wrestle with God, as long as in the end perhaps we realize, we can bend the knee to Him, because without Him, life has no meaning. 

So the spiritual journey of Aaron Rodgers continues to this day. He's a young guy. He's only a year older than I am. He's now dabbling in things like ayahuasca, why? Because he's searching for the truth. He wants to know what life is really about. I can't judge him for that. I dabbled in such experiences for years, I was searching. 

Often in our spiritual journey we turn to something called "walk-about." I did for years. Just walking about the city, late at night, walking here and there, listening to ambient techno, looking up at the stars, wondering: What is life really about? That may be his next step as he nears retirement. Walk-about, thinking deeply, thinking on the big questions. 

Aaron Rodgers also recently found himself under attack from the culture for not receiving the injection. In the height of the cultural pressures, which were extreme, Aaron basically said no, I'm not yielding to the cultural pressure. That takes a lot of guts to do. But I think even now in 2023, many of us look back and think to ourselves, wow, we went overboard. We followed whatever the television news told us to think, but then randomly at some point in 2022, the CDC, the media, and the White House declared it was over, and all the masks came off, and many of us I'm sure were left holding the face rag thinking: Did I just fall for a hysteria that didn't match the reality on the ground?

Many in our society may be wondering: How did I let myself get so hysterical as to harass people like Aaron Rodgers to the point of cultural cancellation? "Thou art one of the haters" it seemed was the cry for anyone who dare dissent from the prevailing orthodoxy. Then suddenly all the rags came off, and we're supposed to pretend like nothing happened? Astonishing. 

In any case, that took guts and character for Aaron Rodgers to do. If Aaron applies that same ruthless courage and hunger for the truth to his spiritual journey he will find the truth. I believe that. 

But let me offer this olive branch, you sat down with Rob Bell and read many of his recommended books, but now I would say, hear the other side of the story. Sit down with Christian evangelical leaders, and ask those big questions. Read some of the best books on Christian faith from a biblical perspective, and see if there is something there, something beyond all the propaganda and cultural bias, that might be a path worth walking once again. 

I recommend: "The Truth Project" by Del Tackett (DVD Series)
The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer, The Language of God by Francis Collins, The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel, and The Message Bible by Eugene Peterson. I'd mail them to Aaron, but I'm poor, so I'll include links to purchase them, for anyone interested.

In 2009 Rodgers and the Packers would fall to Favre and the Vikings. But, in 2010, in a magic year for the Packers, Favre would return to Lambeau for the last time, and Rodgers would lead the Packers to victory.

Rodgers once said after a game against the Seattle Seahawks, a team with many players of faith, that he didn't think God cares about football. It's a reasonable statement I think, does God really care about the tiny issues of a single football game? But maybe God does. Maybe God does care about the game of football. Maybe not the small details, but perhaps the bigger stories, of victory and defeat, of failure, of persevering in defeat, of clawing your way out of the pit and finding victory from the ashes of defeat.

The story had come full circle in 2010, Rodgers came into his own, and gained victory for us at last. He fought through a terrible controversy, and came out victorious, but only through crushing defeat, and constant difficulties and trials and retrials and injuries, criticism, outright hatred, dedicated devotion to his profession, and many hard fought battles. At last, through dogged perseverance and character over many years, he gained the victory. 

That is also how life works. Life brings us to the brink of chaos, and then somehow, someway, we find a new faith, a new hope, a new way, in Christ. In that, we find life, or... we don't. That's the gift of God in all this, choice. We can have it, or we can not have it. Wild, exciting, astonishing, terrifying, mystifying, that's God's universe isn't it?

Thank you to Aaron Rodgers for being such an amazing quarterback for the Green Bay Packers all these years. A personal hero of mine. I pray Aaron Rodgers returns to the faith of his forefathers. And thanks Aaron, for supporting The Salvation Army, the organization I minister for. 

The Lord wants you back Aaron Rodgers, he personally asked me to write this, and he gave me this scripture for you, as evidence of His love for you: 

 "What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?" -Romans 8:31

Aaron Rodgers giving God all the Glory

Monday, January 23, 2023

Top 10 Best Quotes from "Live Not by Lies" by Rod Dreher

Have you read the masterpiece by Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies? It's brilliant I'm in the midst of it right now. This needs to go on your must read list for 2023. Do it! It's a real page turner I can barely put it down. I've highlighted and underlined every page. But I would like to share my top ten favorite quotes from the book, but this will only include part one. I'm only halfway through it is why.

These quotes are dealing with the problems we face, in part one. So I want to challenge you to pray specifically for God to move in these areas that concern us. If Christians pray, and ask God to move in these areas, we will see breakthroughs.

"In 2005, the sociologists of religion Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton coined the phrase Moralistic Therapeutic Deism to describe the decadent form that Christianity had taken in contemporary America. It consists of the general belief that God exists, wants nothing more from us than to be nice and to be happy. In therapeutic culture, which has everywhere triumphed, the great sin is to stand in the way of the freedom of others to find happiness as they wish." -Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies, p. 12-13

"..the death of God in the West had given birth to a new civilization devoted to liberating the individual to seek his own pleasures and to managing emergent anxieties. Religious Man who lived according to belief in transcendent principles that ordered human life around communal purposes, had given way to Psychological Man, who believed that there was no transcendent order and that life's purpose was to find one's own way experimentally. Man no longer understood himself to be a pilgrim on a meaningful journey with others, but as a tourist who traveled through life according to his own self-designed itinerary, with personal happiness his ultimate goal. This was a revolution even more radical than the 1917 Bolshevik event, said Rieff. For the first time, humankind was seeking to create a civilization based on the negation of any binding transcendent order." -Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies, p. 11-12

"What is happening here? A progressive -and profoundly anti-Christian militancy is steadily overtaking society; one described by Pope Benedict XVI as a "worldwide dictatorship of seemingly humanistic ideologies" that pushes dissenters to society's margins." -Rod Dreher, Live Not By Lies, p. xiii

"The foundation of totalitarianism is an ideology made of lies. The system depends for its existence on a people's fear of challenging the lies. Said the writer, "Our way must be: Never knowingly support lies!" -Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies, p. xiv

"This totalitarianism is therapeutic (soft totalitarianism of political correctness). It masks its hatred of dissenters from its utopian ideology in the guise of helping and healing." -Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies, p. 7

"Back in the Soviet era, totalitarianism demanded love for the Party, and compliance with the Party's demands was enforced by the state. Today's totalitarianism demands allegiance to a set of progressive beliefs, many of which are incompatible with logic - and certainly with Christianity. Compliance is forced less by the state than by elites who form public opinion, and by private corporations that, thanks to technology, control our lives far more than we would like to admit." -Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies, p. 8

Today in our societies, dissenters from the woke party line find their businesses, careers, and reputations destroyed. They are pushed out of the public square, stigmatized, canceled, and demonized as racists, sexists, homophobes, and the like. And they are afraid to resist, because they are confident that no one will join them or defend them." -Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies, p. 8-9

"In Orwell's fictional dystopia, the state installed "telescreens" in private homes to keep track of individual's lives. Today we install smart speakers into our homes to increase our sense of well-being. How did maximizing a feeling of well-being become the ultimate goal of modern people and societies?" -Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies, p. 11

Almost a quarter century before the fall of the Berlin wall, Rieff predicted that communism would not be able to withstand the cultural revolution coming from the West, one that purported to set the individual free to pursue hedonism and individualism. If there is no sacred order, then the original promise of the serpent in the Garden of Eden- "Ye shall be as gods" is the foundational principle of the new culture." --Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies, p. 12

"A Soviet-born US physician told me - after I agreed not to use his name - that he never posts anything remotely controversial on social media, because he knows that the human resource department at his hospital monitors employee accounts for evidence of disloyalty to the progressive "diversity and inclusion" creed. That same doctor disclosed that social justice ideology is forcing physicians like him to ignore their medical training and judgment when it comes to transgender health. He said it is not permissible within his institution to advise gender-dysphoric patients against treatments they desire, even when a physician believes it is not in that particular patient's health interest." -Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies, p. 41

Sunday, January 22, 2023

The Death of Polycarp at Smyrna: How to Give Up Everything for Christ

Smyrna as you can see on the map was located on the Aegean sea and was considered the gateway into Europe from the middle east. Smyrna was known for it’s production of fine materials, in fact, Smyrna was known for production of frankincense and myrrh. Primarily for myrrh. And myrrh was a substance known to be used in burial rituals to cover the smell of the dead. Indeed, death would be associated with the church in Smyrna, because they would face severe persecution, and martyrdom.

Many Christians would be killed for their faith in the first few hundred years of Chrsitianity, many of whom lived in Smyrna. Most famous of all these martyrs was a man named Polycarp.

Polycarp’s crime essentially was refusing to worship the government. In ancient Rome it was expected that citizens would regard Caesar, the leader of the government as a god. Now, Jewish communities in the roman empire had gained an exception from worshipping Caesar. But the early Christian communities did not share this exception.

And the Jewish synagogues in Smryna were all too eager to blame controversies on the Christians in the area. And so the Jews were protected from death, and the Christians were burned at the stake and fed to the lions.

So Polycarp found himself staked to a tree. Normally they would be nailed to the post so they wouldn’t run. But Polycarp said no need, I won’t run, I’ll stay in the flames, for Christ.

Tradition tells us that they lit the pile of wood but the wind blew so hard it wouldn’t burn Polycarp properly. So finally they ordered a guard to go over and stab him with his sword, and Polycarp did at last die for Christ. That was 155 AD.

And today in the United States, 2023, we Christians today may also face persecution. Not necessarily being fed to the lions or burned at the stake, but, a salvation army soldier when to witness to a drug dealer, and he got a gun put to his head, and the trigger got pulled and he died. At a shooting in California about 10 years ago, people were asked are you a Christian and if they said yes they got a bullet. So yes, even death, and in China or North Korea or parts of the middle east, yes, death is a danger everyday. But in the USA, and Europe, today it’s like a few weeks ago, a woman was arrested and put in jail in the UK, because she was standing outside a planned parenthood facility, silently praying. She wasn’t even praying out loud, just standing there, praying in her head. And the police were called and she confessed to committing this crime of praying at this facility and she was taken to jail. Her name is Isabel Vaughan-Spruce.

But it’s not often in the United States something where the police will come get you. It’s more just a quiet pressure, all around us, to stay quiet, and just be nice and polite. Just a quiet pressure to not say anything. Because you might get criticized. People might think you’re a weird religious type. And it’s interesting how this keeps us quiet. And we’re afraid to speak up. That is the oppressiveness in our nation today I think for Christians is simply the quiet pressure to shut up. And I’ll tell you this, you have to train yourself to be brave and courageous. And you do so by speaking up. And as you speak up, your courage grows.

But I’ll also tell you this, as you refuse to speak up and stay quiet, the fear grows and pretty soon it’s harder to speak up. So do speak up. And yeah, it may cause controversy. But be ok with that. That’s your calling. Just speak up anyway. And be brave. Because then you’re training yourself to be brave. And that develops a pattern of behavior. And pretty soon it’s normal and easy. But at first it might be a little tough. That’s 2023.

But back in 155 AD Polycarp died for the truth. His words were striking, before the Roman procouncil Quadratus, when the procounsel asked him to deny Jesus.

Polycarp's last words: "Eighty and six years I have served Christ, and He has never done me any harm. How then, could I blaspheme my King who saved Me? ... I bless You for considering me worthy of this day and this hour that I may be among your martyrs and drink the cup of my Lord Jesus Christ."

And about 60 years earlier, John knew the body of believers would face persecution. And he received a message from Jesus Christ our savior, for the persecuted church. He wrote the words down that Jesus gave him, word for word, to the church in Smyrna. So let’s look at them. They say this…

“The First and the Last, who was dead and came to life, says these things: 9 I know your works and tribulation and poverty (but you are rich). And I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Look, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tried, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

11 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”

God is speaking to this church in a very intentional way. He says I was dead, and I’m alive again, and that will be you too. Recognize the long game. Recognize death is not the end. Do you understand that? You have to understand that if you’re going to be an overcomer.

Because the Christian life is full of trials and tribulations, but the greatest trial is the trial of physical death. All of us will face it one day. But for the church in Smyrna they are offered either turn away from Christ, or die. And that means I’m going to die before my time. We all want life. But could we die for Christ? That’s the challenge. Most of us here may never face that challenge. But we may face the challenge, will I speak up for Jesus or will I stay quiet? And we need to decide firmly in our hearts and minds to speak up boldly, even if our voice shakes. Even if we stutter a little. And even if we get in trouble. Or lose our job. Or even get arrested. And I think we need to have it in our minds and hearts, that if necessary I will die for Christ.

Would you die for Christ? Honestly, would you? You’ve got a family, you’ve got a wife or husband, a nice home, a good apartment, children even, you need to care for, would you still die for Christ?

That’s what would happen in this church in Smyrna. God says to them, “9 I know your works and tribulation and poverty (but you are rich).

Jesus says, I know. Jesus knows us. He knows what we go through. I received a word from God once, in my life, and Jesus said in that word, I know you. What a wonderful thing. Truly wonderful. God knows.

He knows their sorrow, their hard work, their difficulties, and their poverty. All three things Jesus personally experienced in His own life on planet Earth. So he really does know. And, he says, you’re really rich. It seems like you’re materially poor, you’re actually rich.

Do you understand that? Do you really? Material wealth. Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Elon Musk, I’m richer than them all,, because I am a follower of Jesus Christ, I have the life of God living within me, and if you really do know God and follow Him, and love Him, you’re richer than a billionaire. That’s a fact. If you don’t really believe that yet, that’s OK, you’ll get there. You’re still a bit brainwashed by the world and the flesh. But you will get there God willing.

Immediately after that Jesus says to them, “And I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”

One of the chief problems for the church in Smyrna was the jewish synagogue there, they were denounced by this synagogue again and again and again. This group had protection from the laws of Rome, about worshipping the government. But, the Christians were an easy target, a new group, that were considered outsiders.

In fact when Polycarp was killed for his faith, many in the crowd were the Jews from the synagogue denouncing Him before the roman authorities. Very similar of course to the crucifixion of Jesus, brought before the romans, denounced by the pharisees and taken to the be killed in the end.

God tells them next: “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer.”

Don’t be afraid. I’m with you. And here is what is going to happen, he says, “Look, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tried, and you will have tribulation for ten days.”

Who is throwing them in jail? Not the Romans, not the Jewish synagogue, no, it’s Satan, the adversary.

Same with us today, when we face persecution, it is not the people doing it, it is the spirit of the anti-christ, it’s Satan, attacking us. And our job is to bear up, stand firm, persevere, and God helps us. He protects us. He gives us the faith and courage to stand firm.

And often we come out the other side of the trials and difficulties victorious. And our enemies are defeated. We win the victory.

But it can also go another way. Often times when we face difficulties and persecutions if we hold close to Christ and love our enemies, the end of the ordeal is God preparing a table for us in the presence of our enemy. Our enemies are powerless, but can only watch as God blesses us, and it ends that way. That’s it. Victory.

But it can also go like this, like it did for Polycarp, or Justin Martyr, or Perpetua, or William Tyndale or of course the first martyr Stephen. Our enemies take us, bring us before the authorities, the authorities deem us guilty, and we are killed for our faith, or our enemies capture us and kill us.

That’s why Jesus says at the end, here is my command to you in this situation: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Some Christians today have this idea that if we pray and stay strong in the faith, we’ll have victory over all our problems, that is not necessarily the case. Sometimes that is how things go. But, it may come to that point where we must be faithful unto to death.

It reminds me of a woman who I met with several times when I was in upper Michigan, at a nursing home, she was a godly woman, had been a Sunday school teacher, very active in her church, loved Jesus, came to the Bible studies I would have at the facility, bishop noa home it was called, her name was Margaret.

But her last few years had been difficult. She had lost her eye sight, it kept getting worse and worse until she couldn’t see anything at all. Then she had a fall and broke her hip. And she was bed ridden, sickly, could barely function and she struggled in those days to keep hope. She just wanted to go home to be with Jesus. And I’m sure one day soon she did. But she had to be faithful unto death. That’s not the end we all dream of, left alone in a nursing home, going blind, broken hip, and feeling forgotten. But I believe, she was faithful unto death.

That is one way to be faithful unto death. And someday some of us here may fae the same challenge of the church in Smyrna, give your life for Jesus, be martyred for Jesus. We don’t know what the future holds for the United States of America. Christians are not particularly well respected in the USA. In fact by many, we’re viewed as backwards bigots and haters. Would it really a stretch to say that we might one day face persecution in the way of death? In 25 years or 40 years? Consider the changes that took place in the USA from the 1950s and 60s to today. I don’t think it’s a stretch.

So, I think it is wise, if we hear what the Spirit is saying to the church today. Be willing to be persecuted for the name of Jesus. And I want each of you to consider now, this question: If necessary, would I give my life for Jesus? If I was told by some governing authority or some group, you must abandon your relationship with Jesus Christ, or be killed, what would you say? That is the question.

My suggestion is this: Decide and commit in your heart today, not just your mind, but your heart: I will die for Jesus if necessary. I would rather be physically killed then give up my love for Jesus.

Because what would happen, if I gave up my faith in Jesus? What if I did renounce Him? Well, I’ve saved my physical life. But, I’ve condemned my soul to a eternity in hell. So we should see the eternal picture. If I die for Jesus, I’ll receive eternal life, and in the next life, it will be a table prepare for me in the presence of my enemies just like Psalm 23 says, because I’ll receive eternal rewards, they will receive condemnation. But if I give up my faith to keep my physical life, well, I’ve given up my eternal soul.

Monday, January 16, 2023

A Man after God's Own Heart: David's Early Life as a Shepherd

We’re going to examine the life of the one of the great historical figures, a man named David. If there’s one person I want to mimic in my devotion to Christ it’s David. He is the prime example from the Old Testament of a godly man, a man the Bible says, was a man after God’s own heart.

There are many ways to examine scripture, we can look at it from a historical perspective, from a devotional approach, but for this series we want to look directly at the character of David himself, and how he responded to the story God had playing out for Him. And it wasn’t an easy journey for David. He had a hard life.

David starts off as the youngest of many brothers. Probably often forgotten. Often

1st Samuel 16: 11-13 And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, and there he is shepherding the flock.”

Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him, for we will not sit down until he comes here.”

12 So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy with beautiful eyes and a good appearance.

And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.”

13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord came on David from that day forward. So Samuel arose and went to Ramah.”

David was anointed as the king of Israel as a young man, and that would define his life for many years. He was a young king in exile. Because technically Saul was still king. But Saul had displeased God. And so God would slowly work in David’s life to bring him to the seat of the throne. Which is our first point today, God may appoint you to something before you’re actually there. It’s in your future, but God has already declared it over you. Now you’ve got to wait until it comes to pass in the real world, and that takes time, and patience. One of the core aspects of David’s character was patience, an ability to wait well.

Does that define you as well? Are you good at waiting?

Notice in verse 13, as soon as Samuel anointed David, it says the Spirit of the Lord came upon David, and stayed with him from that day on.

Next it says in 1st Samuel 16, “4 Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul and an evil spirit from the Lord terrified him.

15 So the servants of Saul said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God troubles you. 16 Let our lord now tell your servants, who are before you, that they might seek out a man experienced in playing the lyre. And it will come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is on you, that he will play with his hand, and you will be well.”

17 Saul said to his servants, “Find me now a man that can play well, and bring him to me.”

18 Then one from the servants answered, and said, “I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is experienced in playing music, a mighty man of valor, a man of battle, and skillful in words, even a man of fine appearance. And the Lord is with him.”

19 Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said, “Send me David your son, who is with the sheep.”

Second point, God is the one who will bring about turns and twists in events to get you where you need to be. Don’t try to force it on your own, or figure out how it will happen.

Does it say that David incessantly worried about what events he needed to try to make happen so he would end up on the throne of Israel? No. Because David knew God would make it happen. And sure enough, David played the harp. And God made sure the right person noticed him playing the harp, who was an advisor to King Saul, and just like that, David ended up face to face with the King of the country.

That’s point number two, you need to trust God to make it happen even if it seems impossible. Faith. That’s trust and faith. And also linked to patience. Trust God to orchestrate events to make things work out the way they should, not necessarily the way you want them, but the way they should.

In verses 21-23 “David came to Saul, and stood before him. And Saul loved him greatly and he became his armor bearer. Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David stand before me, for he has found favor in my sight.”

23 It happened that when the evil spirit from God came on Saul, David would take the lyre in his hand and play. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.”

Thirdly, not only does God arrange for Saul and David to meet like this, but God arranges Sauls response to David to be very positive, where he senses God’s spirit with Him, and David is then hired on as an the armor bearer for King Saul. He now has direct access to the throne room, he’s in with the king’s court, he’s favored by the king, and God has him on His way toward his destiny. All of it orchestrated by God.

David did the foot work, he went when he was called, played his instrument, followed God, and the Spirit of the Lord abided in Him. He let God be in control, and simply walked the path, as God set things up in His favor.

Patience. He waited many years, I’m sure knowing in his heart he was meant for something more. And God brought it to pass, and yet at soon as he was anointed another season of waiting began. Patience.

Secondly, faith, David didn’t try to manipulate or control events, he let God be God. He had trust, that God would bring it to pass. He simply trusted and waited, and God orchestrated events to bring him in.

Thirdly favor, God made sure as David walked in faith, that he would find special favor with Saul, and Saul would hire him on.

Patience, Faith, and Favor. Just like David we want to live with those sort of characteristics, which are ours in Christ jesus our savior. He brings them out in us. Which is amazing. Let’s walk in that way today. God bless you.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

The Letters to the Seven Churches in Revelation: The Church in Ephesus

What are the authoritative sources in your life? Who do you trust for information? This is more important than we might realize. Most people would probably say the education system, television, tv news, doctors, academics, trusted friends, or college.

When we receive information from these various sources we tend to trust the information as being something we can believe is true.

I have certain sources that I trust completely. There are other sources that I kind of trust. And there are other sources that I distrust. Still other sources I outright reject.

What are your authoritative sources?

Prior to becoming a Christian my highest trusted sources would’ve been news media, doctors, things I learned in college, science, experts, and so on.

Today after becoming a Christian that list would be very different. I tend to distrust the news media. I tend to distrust things that I had been taught in college, I tend to be more skeptical of the claims of experts and scientists. Today my highest trusted authority is of course the Bible, the word of God. I also tend to trust many teachers of the word of God.

The Bible went from having zero authority in my life, to having prime authority in my life.

What is your authority? Is it the Bible? Or do you trust the news and the experts and the proclamations of society more?

It’s not something we’re suddenly immune to once we become Christians. Even as Christians we can distrust the Bible and put too much trust in culture and society and the television. That’s why you see Christians who support abortion or gay marriage. That’s why you see Christians who champion political causes they’ve seen in the news that actually contradict the word of God.

This world has many deceptions. Be careful what you’re believing. Be sure to trust God over any man or woman.

So, today, we begin a new series, where we’ll be examining 7 letters that Jesus gave, in the book of Revelation.

We talked about how even as Christians we can be deceived. Many Christians refuse to open the book of Revelation. They’re afraid of it. And they don’t like the way God is portrayed in Revelation. Even someone like Martin Luther the greater reformer disliked the book of Revelation and didn’t regard it as Holy Spirit inspired for many years. But later in his life he did begin to speak more positively of it. He said similar things about the book of James as well. Should we dislike Revelation? Or run from it? No, absolutely not. The book of Revelation is wonderful. It's part of the trusted canon of scripture. 

And I think in the letters to the seven churches we can find a great deal of useful and wise teachings.

As we begin this series I’d like to give you a proper introduction. Tradition indicates that all of the disciples of Jesus lost their lives as they traveled to proclaim the message of His resurrection. All of them aside from one, John, who was poisoned, but survived, and was later exiled to the island of Patmos.

While John was on the island of Patmos, he received a vision from God, through Jesus Christ, describing the events of the end times, as well as messages to seven churches, the first churches, of the body of Christ, giving each church a different message about their journey in serving Jesus on the Earth.

Each of the seven churches received a different and unique message. Many of the churches were encouraged, others were rebuked, some received only praise, other received only correction. I wonder what Jesus would say to our little church today? Would he encourage us, rebuke us, or both? I wonder.

Let’s dive into the word, you can open your Bibles to the book of Revelation.

From Revelation 1:1-3 “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him to show to His servants things which must soon take place. He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, 2 who bears record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. 3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep those things which are written in it, for the time is near.”

We’re told we’ll receive a special blessing by reading these words aloud, which is wonderful. We see this Revelation, singular, is from Jesus, given to John, to be shared with us, the body of believers today.

So I’m just going to read through the first chapter here, and try to give you a feel for what John is seeing and what is being shared, it says this:

"Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, 6 and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

7 Look! He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him,

even those who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.

8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Here we have the initial greeting as John forwards the message to the seven churches in Asia Minor, present day Turkey. It’s interesting that Jesus is cited as the current ruler of the kings of the Earth. Same would true today, wouldn’t it? He is the ruler of every king, president and prime minister on Earth. Period.

And Jesus we know is one day coming with the clouds, like he left. And it says every eye will see Him.

God is the alpha and the omega. First and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Who is presently, who was, and who is also in the future, is to come.

It continues, “9 I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the isle that is called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a great voice like a trumpet, 11 saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and “What you see, write in a book, and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”

12 I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And when I turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks, 13 and in the midst of the seven candlesticks was one like a Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and with a golden sash wrapped around the chest. 14 The hair on His head was white like wool, as white as snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire. 15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters. 16 He had in His right hand seven stars, and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword. His appearance was like the sun shining brightly.

17 When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though I were dead. Then He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am He who lives, though I was dead. Look! I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.

19 “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this. 20 The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven candlesticks which you saw are the seven churches.”

Powerful images. A vision. One minute you’re standing on the shore, or in your bed, the next moment you’re taken and you see things few could imagine. Truly astonishing.

Why does God work this way? Why a vision or a dream? It’s common throughout scripture. But it’s clear God wants to communicate truth to us a particular way. It brings up a lot of different questions. Why doesn’t everyone get a vision? Why only certain people? Can we trust the vision? Was it just a hallucination? All sorts of questions come up.

But it’s interesting that a vision like this, it’s mysterious, it’s symbolic, and it fills us with wonder. It makes us wonder at the glory and majesty of God. And it preserves our choice. We can either trust and believe God, or we can doubt and question God. Will I believe? Or will I reject it? Free will, choice is preserved. My choice. Who will I believe? God or the world? I choose God. It’s real. And I can trust what it’s saying to me.

So today we’re looking at the church of Ephesus, and the specific message given from Jesus, to them. This was in AD 95. The disciples of Jesus, along with the Apostle Paul began planting various faith communities across the roman empire. Probably the most famous would’ve been Ephesus. Though there were churches planted in Philippi, Thessalonica, Jerusalem, though they had to flee the area later, even in Rome. So it makes you wonder why did Jesus only send these messages to these seven churches? There are others. We don’t really know.

The church in Ephesus, well, they had a lot to contend with. Ephesus was a major trading city in asia minor. And it was well know for the worship of the Greek goddess artemis. In fact people from all around the roman empire would make pilgrimages to ephesus to worship artemis. Artemis was the goddess of fertility. And the way that worship to artemis took place was, they had a massive temple to artemis in ephesus, with hundreds of temple prostitutes, and you would go and sleep with the temple prostitutes, as your act of worship. Very difficult thing to compete with, like trying to compete with nfl football or bars or night clubs. But God is greater than evil. And false gods stand no chance against the true living God.

So the church at ephesus was growing and vibrant. They were doing very well. And over time they would ultimately be victorious in ephesus over the false gods. About 175 years later, the temple of artemis was destroyed by invaders. And the roman empire had become so Christian by then, the temple was never rebuilt. Though at one time it was considered one of the seven wonders of the world.

In any case, this is the message that was given to the believers at Ephesus, from Jesus, in

Revelation 2:1-7: “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write: “He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, says these things: 2 I know your works, your labor and your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles, but are not, and have found them to be liars. 3 You have endured, and have been patient, and for My name’s sake have labored and have not grown weary.

4 “But I have something against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your candlestick from its place, unless you repent. 6 But this you have: You hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

7 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give permission to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”

Encouragement: Jesus says I know your works, your labor, and your patience. He is pleased that they do reject all evil.

Also, they’ve seen false apostles going about, which was common during Pauls time, of the early church, people claiming to be apostles, but they were false. And Jesus again praises them for being wise and testing people to make sure they’re from God or not.

Jesus says you’ve endured difficulties, well done. You’ve been patient. Probably referring to persecution from the city.

I found this interesting he praises them because they quote “have not grown weary.” There have been times in my life that I’ve grown weary. But this tells me that I can find ways to avoid becoming weary, like the ephesians did. They labored for Jesus name sake, and that was also pleasing to God.

Those are the encouragements, Jesus saying, good job, just as he says to you in your life at many times, good job because of this, this, and this. Amazing. We need that encouragement.

Next we see correction, just one line, but very important, he says you’ve abandoned the love you had at first. Other translations say you’ve abandoned your first-love. Just one line, however, our Bibles say, without love, what are we? Useless. It’s a big problem to have abandoned love.

This I see in many churches even in our modern day and age. It’s a common scenario. They start off very focused on love. And the enemy attacks. They have to fight off a lot of evil next. And they face persecution. And they begin to fight evil by hating evil. Which is a good thing. They fight for their doctrine. They resist false teachers. They battle it out and become mature believers. But in all those battles they become hard, and strained, and burned out and bitter. And slowly over time they get so used to fighting evil, they no longer have love in their hearts for Jesus or for the lost. That is very common for a body of believers. They’ve fought the battles over the years, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, and they’ve fought so hard, they’ve lost their ability to love. And Jesus says return to the love you had at first. Find your love again.

Are you there today? Tired from the battles? Exhausted from fighting? So used to dealing with all the evil in the USA that slowly your genuine love has faded to brokenness and bitterness? Return today to the love of God. Ask Jesus to fill you again with His love, so you may pour it out to others.

There was a time in my life when I’d become so involved in cultural battles, activism, apologetics, politics, government, theological debates, that I had begun to lose that first love. But we can always find it again.

Two paths are shown to the Ephesian church. Jesus says for those of you in this church who do overcome, I’ll give you the right to eat from the tree of life. Wow!

But, if you do not repent, and find your love again, I will remove your lampstand from it’s place. Basically saying, your church will become a dead church, no more Holy Spirit, no more love or power, empty. Have you ever walked into a church like that? It’s just dead spiritually. I’ve felt that, and it’s ugly.

Reward or disaster, is the offer to ephesians. I believe they chose life. Because they overcame the evil one, and the temple to artemis as toppled. But only God knows for sure.

So in conclusion today, let’s learn from this first letter to the church in Ephesus. Your homework today is to go home and read Revelation 1 through Revelation 2:7, and do some highlighting and underlining.

Who is your source of authority? If it’s the word of God, then believe these words are true and for you today. Apply them to your life. If they really are the words of the creator of the universe, follow them carefully. Structure your life around these words. Keep your first love first, your love for Jesus, and his love for you. It’s perfect. So seek Him today. God bless you.